Testing short term memory

During studies of cognitive psychology with special emphasis on memory, the access students were asked by the tutor to conduct an experiment on memory. In 1956 then a professor at Havard George A. Miller published a paper on The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two which stated that the memory span of young adults was around seven elements(chunks) regardless whether they were digits, letters ,words etc.

We therefore set out to challenge Miller’s theory and find out indeed if it was true in the case of Gloucester College students. The hypothesis was developed by looking at similar experiments of the same nature that had been conducted previously ie the location involved and participants involved. We had to consider the method used if for example the choice of sample would affect the result in any way or the location of the experiment.

Participants would on average be able to recall around five digits read out to them with a few variations on either end of the scale ie a few number of participants might be able to remember more than five digits as well as a few participants not being able to remember up to five digits in some cases. We had to identify a method to use to collect the data, between a field study and a questionnaire we finally settled on a questionnaire in the form of a stimulus sheet and participants had to be in pairs.

This was felt to be the best method that would minimise any variables which might affect the result of the experiment. The extraneous variables identified were distractions from other participants and noise from other students in the building. Also the way the numbers were read out had to be fast and consistent because if digits were read slowly this might also affect the results as participants would be able to recall more chunks of information, that variable had to be strictly controlled in order not to affect the end result.

The participants chosen were all full time psychology students on the access course at Gloucestershire College. There were about 75 students participating and roughly about two to one as there were about 50 women and 25 men. The participants ranged in age from about twenty two to around forty five years with most participants in their twenties and early thirties. Materials used were a stimulus sheet and a pencil we got from the lecturer. There were ten lines with ten digits per line on the stimulus sheet, we did not need any other special equipment we had to use except to go of and look for a quiet environment without any disturbances.

The procedure used was a standardised procedure in which two participants went to a quiet area and read out the digits to each other. The participants had to sit looking opposing ways and each participant read out all the numbers on one side of the stimulus sheet to each other once finished the other would do the same with a different set of digits and the last number correct was marked to give the score. The experiment was conducted in pairs of students all over the college on the morning of Monday the 6th of October. There had to be constistency in reading out the numbers and participants had to avoid reading them out in chunks of three as this would affect the final result.

Procedures of research had to confirm to recognised ethical guidelines. Participants had the right to withdraw from the experiment anytime they felt uncomfortable and were briefed about the methods to be used and were assured of their confidentiality. The participants would also have access to the data collected about them and also a systematic process would be used as to avoid bias and protect the participants. Therefore the procedures used confirmed to ethical guidelines.

The highest percentage of participant remembered from four digits up to seven.98 participants remembered 4 digits which made up 12.91% 132 remembered 5 digits making 17.93% and 153 remembered 6 digits making 20.16% and 91 remembered 7 digits making 11.99% ,18 participants could not remember any digit making 2.37% and 17 participants remembered all 10digits making 2.24%.The mean ,median and mode were 4.91 ,5 and 6 respectively.

The result were no real suprise as they confirmed the theory put forward by Miller that the memory is capable of remembering plus or minus 7 digits and clearly relate to the hypothesis put forward at the beginning of the experiment. These results obtained during his experiment mean that the so called urban myth still holds true up to this day and totally agree with the theory. In the case of English speaking respondents the results will mostly be predictable how ever in a different country which speaks a different language the result might not be the same therefore its worth noting the main language of the respondents as it might have a slight bearing on the outcome.

In order to have an accurate result, the way the digits are counted should be strictly monitored and be consistent throughout as reading the digits slowly or in chunks of three makes it easier for participants to recall more digits. Improving the method in some way would not have that much of a bearing as i believe the final result would be more or less the same. There were no confounding variables encountered and no ethical issues raised during the experiment as most ethical considerations were dealt with before the experiment began.

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